ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Imperatives of a Left Public Sphere

A left public sphere, the site of rational debates and democratic politics, is virtually a thing of the past today. A failure to engage with traditional identities like caste and religion and the inability to grapple with the changes in the post-liberalisation era have curtailed the influence of the left.

Civil society in India is fast losing much of what it had gained during the past two centuries through popular movements and democratic struggles. This regressive development should lead to some introspection by all those who live in the hope of an egalitarian society. The decline of the left in the political public sphere in the past few years has sparked off some critical introspection by left activists and intellectuals. Vijay Prashad’s No Free Left—The Futures of Indian Communism and Praful Bidwai’s The Phoenix Moment: Challenges Confronting the Indian Left, (awaiting publication) are the most recent examples. Discussions are also taking place in regional languages. B Rajeevan’s thought-provoking recent essay in a Malayalam weekly, Madhyamam, on the “Reconstruction of a left common sphere” is a good example.

The suggestion for “reconstruction” implies the existence of a left public sphere that did not fulfil its expected mission. The origin of the public sphere in India goes back to the early 19th century. Educational institutions, debating societies, social organisations, literary clubs established during the colonial rule were institutional bases for this public sphere. The Indian intelligentsia cut its teeth in the portals of these institutions, while debating the ideas of liberalism and principles of democracy. They also accorded the newly emerging middle class the social and political space to envision its future. The social engineering and administrative expansion undertaken by the British facilitated this process.

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